Chapter 1

If you never learned to hold onto someone, how could it possibly hurt now to let them go?

~Shannon L. Alder


It had been a typical day, if anything in her life could be considered typical—a morning lecture, followed by coffee with Nan, then two hours of open office hours catering to freshman angst.

Now She was beat. Her toes were cramped and aching in the cream–colored high heels Nan insisted she wear to complement her new sweater and skirt.


She sat behind her office desk, the offending shoes kicked into a corner, trying to massage some feeling back into numb toes.

I may have permanent loss of feeling in my feet, she grumbled, as she stared out the lead-glass windows.

It was the golden end of an October day and it was Friday. She might actually join Nan and the others for cocktails at Sweetwater’s.

Hmm, probably not.


The loud jangle of the phone rescued her from decision-making.

“May I please speak with Hailey Christine McAdam?” The professional-sounding male voice was all business.

“This is she.”

“Hailey?” The voice softened and grew warmer. “It’s Thomas Gunn. I got your number from your mother’s file.”


The face of her mother’s attorney leapt to mind.

“Mr. Gunn? How are you—is everything all right?” The sinking feeling in her gut told her otherwise.

“I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Hailey, but your mother passed away this afternoon.”

“Dead? —But how can that be? I wasn’t even aware she was ill.”

“Yes, I know,” he sympathized, “Apparently she had a massive stroke. She was found by the housekeeper when she brought her lunch around one.”


The room began to swim and to steady it she reached out and grabbed the desk.

She could hear a tinny voice calling from somewhere far away. “Hailey, are you okay?”

“Y—Yes, I’m fine,” she gasped. She fumbled for her bottle of Aquafina and took a sip. Her hands were trembling and icy cold.


“I know this must be quite a shock for you—would you prefer I give you some time? I could call you later tonight at home if that’s convenient.”

“No, no. Thank you Mr. Gunn, I’ll be fine. It’s just the shock of hearing the news. I never dreamt anything was wrong.”

“Of course, I totally understand. Your mother always seemed so strong and independent. I must confess the news upset me as well.”


“You know how you envision things in your head—I never expected it to end this way.”

“Life does surprise us,” he sighed.

“I just can’t believe it. I was out there last week.”

“It is a shock.”


“So, what should I do? I have no idea about these things.”

“I’ve already made arrangements with the funeral home. Your mother discussed all this with me some time ago—it’s in her will.”

“She has a will?”

“Of course, she does, Hailey—you know how organized your mother was. Besides, she did leave behind a sizeable estate. After the funeral, we’ll have to arrange for the family to gather to hear the reading.”


“In the meantime, your Aunt Alicia will be contacting close friends and family members with details of the arrangements. Your mother will be laid out at the Windermere Funeral Home in Oakville. There’ll be visitation on Sunday from two to four and in the evening from seven until nine.”


The matter-of-fact reciting of the schedule seemed to hit her harder than the news itself. She needed to get off the line. “Thank you, Mr. Gunn. I appreciate your efforts.”

He paused as if choosing his words. “I’ll miss your mother too, Hailey. This isn’t just a professional courtesy—we’ve been acquainted a good many years.”

There was a long pause. “Take care and I’ll be back in touch.”


She hung up the phone, dazed and nauseous.

There was a roll of antacids in her purse. She found it and popped one in her mouth.

Mom’s gone.

The statement didn’t make it less painful.

Part of her still believed she could drive out to the old Lakeshore manse and see Mother peering from the upstairs window as she always did when she came to visit—not as often as she should, but about as frequently as she could.


A thought lingering on the edge of her mind now pushed its way to the front.

Maybe it wasn’t Mother—maybe she was the problem.

Perennially self-doubting, Nan would say.

But what if there was a blind spot in her thinking—a permanent distortion, like a flaw in a mirror?

The idea struck her as plausible—no, she’d even go further than that—it was a probability approaching a certainty.

There was no denying the fact that despite her best efforts to figure things out, her life remained a permanent riddle. What was it that Churchill said—A mystery wrapped in a conundrum?

That about summed her up.


She pictured herself as a nine year old in her mother’s front room gazing down in horror at shattered shards of crystal.

I ruined everything.

Her mother was standing before her now, arms crossed, face inscrutable.

It can’t be helped. That phrase was her stock response.

Wouldn’t that be ironic—if in the end, mother’s dictum was not one of her annoying little tics, but was in fact the truth?



© 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

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